It’s easy to see how Binghamton Mets reliever Jack Leathersich got the nickname “Leather Rocket.” Armed with a mid-90’s fastball and devastating slider, the southpaw continues to strike out opposing batters at an incredible rate. The key for the 23-year-old, however, is finding a way to harness the power and throw strikes consistently.
Following a promotion to Triple-A in 2013, Leathersich issued 29 walks in 29 innings, overshadowing his 47 strikeouts in that same period. The Massachusetts native was then invited to major league Spring Training in 2014, but instead of making the big league roster or returning to Las Vegas when camp was complete, he was sent to Double-A Binghamton to regain the form that warranted his two-year ascension from fifth-round draft pick in 2011 to Triple-A. As has been the case since he started in the organization, the strikeouts are again piling up this season at an amazing rate, making most fans drool at the possibility of seeing him work out of the New York bullpen sometime soon.
Robert Brender: After your promotion to Las Vegas last season you walked 29 batters in 29 innings. This season, you’ve trimmed that rate slightly. What are you working on to cut down on issuing walks?
Leathersich: Honestly, my whole life I’ve definitely walked a lot of guys. Last year in Binghamton I still walked a lot of guys but I was getting out of jams. I went to Vegas and what was working in Binghamton was not working in Vegas. It was tough going through adversity like that. Coming into this year and in the offseason my number one thing was just trying to throw the ball, not trying to pitch but trying to throw the ball in the zone and throw more strikes. That’s my biggest thing and my philosophy this year is to cut down on the walks, just throw strikes and attack the hitters, be aggressive down in the zone and just throw more quality strikes. Last year I was up in the zone a lot and getting away with it but I realized quickly when you get to Vegas that doesn’t work anymore.
Brender: Strikeouts have always been a big part of your game. What allows you to strike out this many batters?
Leathersich: I’ve always taken pride in putting a guy away if I can get ahead of him. Last year, I would (have the count) 1-2 or 2-2 and I would just decide to throw a ball by the guy or I’m going to throw the best slider ever but those 1-2 counts would turn into 3-2 counts really quick. Then, I would have to throw a strike and wound up walking the guy. This year, I’m not even trying to strike people out. I’m not thinking about that. I don’t care about that. I’m just trying to throw more strikes because last year I learned that doesn’t work against more experienced hitters. When I get ahead in the count I’m not afraid to put people away and I’m just going to attack them with my best stuff. I’m going to go right after them with a fastball or a slider at the back foot and I’ll just keep coming at you. I feel like I’m fearless out there.
SNY.tv opens Leathersich’s Prospect File…
Brender: What have members of the Mets organization said they want to see from you this season?
Leathersich: They just said I need to throw more strikes and stop walking so many guys. You can’t walk guys in the big leagues. That’s not going to work. I’ve just been really focusing on throwing strikes and the numbers will take care of themselves. That’s not even on my mind. I still carry the same swagger that I normally take out there, except just with more strikes.
Brender: Because of the difficulties associated with pitching in the Pacific Coast League, do you think it’s actually better for your development pitching in Binghamton right now?
Leathersich: The goal is not to make it to triple-A or double-A. The goal is to pitch at Citi Field. Since the day I was drafted that has been my goal and how I get there doesn’t make a difference to me. They’ll know when I’m ready and I’ll know when I’m ready. I’m just trying to stay positive, have a good attitude, have fun with all my good friends, go out there and get my work in and try to get better and better every day. Obviously, everybody would rather be in triple-A but that’s not how it works sometimes. I accepted it that I’m back here and I love it. I’m having a good year so far and trying to keep it going.
Brender: You have the physical build and repertoire similar to Billy Wagner. Is he someone you looked up to as a kid and did you mold your game after his?
Leathersich: That’s exactly who I looked up to when I was growing up. I loved the way that he carried himself. You could tell in his eyes when he was pitching that he didn’t fear anybody. He would go right at you. I feel that’s how I pitch.
Brender: How has the experience been throwing to B-Mets catcher Kevin Plawecki?
Leathersich: The maturity is amazing just a couple of year out of college. He knows how to call a game and handle a pitching staff. He knows when to come out to the mound when you’re struggling and say the right things. He’s done a great job from a catching perspective, not even including his hitting, which is obviously unbelievable. I love throwing to him. It’s awesome.